BRISTOL - Before Bristol Eastern cross country runner Avery Braccia even stepped into the high school, she had a specific goal in mind - to be one of the most dominant freshmen runners in the state.
“When I want something I really work for it,” Braccia said. “I would run out[side] of cross country and over the whole summer. I ran every other day with my dad so that I was ready for cross country when it started, so I would practice a lot because I really wanted to do well this season.”
Now, with her first season complete for the Lancers, the goal she had in mind came to fruition after a stellar year running for Bristol Eastern and head coach Kyle Fuller.
Having coached cross-country since 1995 and in his sixth season with the Lancers, Fuller has seen many runners come and go through the high school level. But what Braccia accomplished this year stood out to him.
“In those 22 years she’s probably the best freshman I’ve seen for girls,” Fuller said. “She’s the real deal. She’s what we call a stud when it comes to the running community and she’s got a bright future ahead of her.”
Throughout the season, Braccia had three specific races that she was most proud of - the Bristol City Championship, CCC Championship and CIAC Divisional Championship.
The first of the three was the city meet against area schools St. Paul and Bristol Central.
Braccia knew she had competition in the Rams runners Alex Sirko, Paige Hinton and Isabella Crandall. The Falcons’ Kailyn Bielecki was another runner Braccia expected to challenge her.
With that in mind, Braccia made sure she was the best runner that day and she finished in first place with a time of 22:52.4.
“That was super memorable for me,” Braccia said of the first place finish at the city meet. “It was just such a cool experience. Looking back, I’m like ‘wow I just did that my first year running [high school] cross country.’ ‘I just won the city championship’ isn’t something you can say every day so that’s really cool.”
In the following week, Braccia and the Lancers had the CCC Championship meet.
During that race, she set a personal record of 21:14.5 as the first place finisher for Bristol Eastern and 42nd overall out of 203 total runners. Braccia also placed third in the race for all freshmen runners.
“I was really motivated because there were a lot of people in that race,” Braccia said. “It was really easy to not want to stop so I used the people around me to keep me pushing forward. When there’s more people around me, I’m more motivated to keep going. But if I’m by myself in the race, I’ll slow down because I feel that I don’t have to keep going which is bad.”
While setting an individual record was rewarding, Braccia and her teammates still had one goal that they wanted to reach and something the Lancers hadn’t done in nine years, beating rival Bristol Central.
In the final meet of the season, the CIAC Divisional Championship, Bristol Eastern did just that.
“That’s probably my most proud race,” Braccia said. “We all came together and got what we needed to get done in order to beat them which was our main goal this season.”
Though her success has been impeccable, her attitude and demeanor hasn’t changed, something her teammates are proud of.
“She was able to be part of the team still,” teammate Audrey Perry said. “Because some people who are really fast they only care about themselves, but she still made sure she was part of the team and she was so encouraging to everyone else. She pushed everybody else as much as she pushed herself.”
Although Braccia is humble about her accomplishments, the season she put together has inspired her teammates to work just as hard.
“She was really inspiring being a freshman because I’m also a freshman,” teammate Sophia Andrade said. “She is like my idol for the grade and I wanted to push myself to become better like she would every race.”
Braccia will be in the spotlight for the Lancers over the next three seasons but has set the foundation for what looks to be an impressive career at Bristol Eastern.
“I think she’s going to go down in Bristol Eastern as one of the best distance runners that we have ever seen,” Fuller said.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan